Learning to L.E.A.R.N.: A Strategy for Fostering Active Learning Online

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Active learning is a student-centered approach intended to engage students through new information, ideas, experiences, and reflective dialogue. In this session, we will L.E.A.R.N how to implement active learning by Leveraging prior knowledge, Explaining new concepts, Activating using activities, Reflecting on learning, and Nurturing new strategies.


Kenna Vowell is an Instructional Designer at Mississippi State University in Starkville, MS. She works with the Instructional Design team in the Center for Distance Education to assist with template design and implementation of best practices in online courses. She also facilitates trainings focused on online pedagogy and technological skills and assists faculty with the university's curriculum approval process. Kenna has a special interest in building quality online courses that are interactive and engaging as well as pedagogically sound.

Extended Abstract

Anyone who has ever taught online has probably wondered how they can engage students when they cannot physically see them.  The reality is that student engagement continues to be one of the primary concerns for online instructors, especially as more classes are offered online as a result of COVID-19. Students and faculty alike may face online burnout if the primary class structure consists of lecture videos, textbook chapters, and multiple-choice tests. Even in a 21st-century society with multiple forms of technology available, the question still remains, “How do we engage students who may be a country or a world away?”

Student engagement is not a new concept and keeping students involved in the learning process is not a new problem.  The student sitting in the one-room schoolhouse staring out the window is not fundamentally different from the student staring at their cellphone today.  In attempting to find a solution to this problem, educators and researchers are increasingly reaping the benefits of active learning strategies. Active learning is a student-centered approach in which the instructor creates the environment and students engage and collaborate within it.  The cycle of active learning involves students taking in new information and ideas, engaging in an experience related to those new ideas, and then critically reflecting on those experiences through reflective dialogue with themselves and their peers. Contrary to passive learning in which the students are not critical to their own learning, active learning gives students opportunities to restructure information into true knowledge. Active learning has been shown to have many positive outcomes including higher levels of independent and creative thinking as well as opportunities for social learning. It is important to understand, however, that face-to-face active learning strategies do not automatically translate to online environments.  A recent study by Reilly and Reeves (2022) examined active learning in online classes and found that courses with low ranges of active learning provided minimal avenues for students to relate academic content to real-world contexts and did not maximize the power of collaboration. In contrast, courses with high active learning ranges carefully aligned technology to pedagogical needs and featured a self-directed, creative, collaborative process.

In this session, we will explore how to foster active learning online through the L.E.A.R.N. strategy.  This strategy focuses on Leveraging prior knowledge, Explaining new concepts, Activating using activities, Reflecting on learning, and Nurturing new strategies.  Each step in the L.E.A.R.N. process is designed so that participants will be able to utilize this strategy when teaching their own online classes, when helping faculty with best practices for online learning, and when designing online courses. The session itself will be structured to model best practices for active learning and will utilize Slido software to facilitate interaction. The primary goal of the session is for participants to walk away with confidence related to their ability to create a meaningful online course that truly engages students with the content, the instructor, and with each other.